Discussion on "Teaching Criminal Justice"

Mathieu Deflem

These comments were published in response to my essay on teaching criminal justice:
Comment: “Teaching Criminal Justice: Reply to a Sociologist,” by Craig Hemmens, ACJS Today 22(4):8-10, 2002; Response by Deflem: “Reply to ‘Reply’,” ACJS Today, 22(4):10-11, 2002; Additional comment: “Independence Day: Rejoinder to Professor Deflem,” by Craig Hemmens, ACJS Today 22(4):11-12, 2002; and Letter by Deflem, ACJS Today 23(1):13, 2003.

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Reply to "Reply"
Mathieu Deflem
Published in ACJS Today, 22(4):10-11, 2002.

“And I say this out of astonishment, not aggressiveness...”
—Michel Foucault.

I am puzzled and distressed by the many misrepresentations of my essay on the teaching of criminal justice and the unjust criticisms on my educational accomplishments in Craig Hemmens’ “Reply.” Most disturbingly, the “Reply” is a highly selective, inaccurate, and biased representation of my essay. Parts of sentences of my essay are quoted out of context and reassembled in new statements which appear nowhere in my essay and which I would never defend. In fact, every single quotation from my essay in Hemmens’ “Reply” constitutes a misrepresentation from the original. By means of example, I never said that I ‘sold out’ by reorienting my course. The point was precisely that I was not going to do that, and I never did do that. Instead, it was out of respect for my students and their needs and desires that I redirected my course in a manner that was still determined by me as a responsible instructor.

I am saddened to see anyone question my teaching record. I never stated in my essay that I received poor teaching evaluations or that my students responded negatively to my approach. I will not deny these accusations. I leave that up to my students. Neither will I comment on the personal nature of this attack. I leave that to the reader. I do reiterate that I experienced no dismay on the part of my students. I only noted resentment from two course participants. The narratives from my teaching experience were not offered as anecdotal evidence, but as illustrations of the context in which my teaching decisions were made. My remorseful revelations cannot be confused with the justifying principles that guided my pedagogical choices. I never displayed any defensiveness in my teaching, nor do I think that I lack relevant knowledge about criminal justice. I am saddened by any unfounded accusation to the contrary. More generally, “whoever denounces someone wants to speak about him, not with him” (Habermas 1996: 1478).

I had hoped that the confessional and simultaneously playful style of my essay would have led to a more forgiving response. In any case, ad hominem attacks on other academicians —in an apparent inability to argue with their ideas— are highly unlikely to foster the development of criminal justice education and scholarship. I also believe that it does not harmonize with the inclusive orientation of most criminal justice scholars and the likewise cross-disciplinary focus of sociologists and other disciplinarians. This admirable bridge-building attitude on at least one occasion even brought the participants of the present debate together in one and the same handbook (DuPont-Morales et al. 2001).

Given the nature of Hemmens’ “Reply,” I am unable to fully formulate my position on relevant matters in this debate in a emotionally detached and useful manner. I refer readers of this newsletter to my original essay (Deflem 2002) and offer only some additional thoughts.

A view of a Criminal Justice course as offering an introduction to the criminal justice system is insufficiently precise and fails to draw distinction between description and analytically grounded explanation in terms of a specified framework of inquiry. It so misses the Weberian insight to distinguish between the moral, internal, and external viewpoints that demarcate normative, professional, and academic perspectives. The course I taught at Purdue was a sociological one, it was advertised as such, students signed up for it as such, and I taught it as such. I assigned a text by (not about) Durkheim because Durkheim’s work is foundational to the sociological study of criminal justice and especially useful because of the contentious nature of the popular debates that surround so many matters of criminal justice.

I never claimed that sociological perspectives of criminal justice are superior to other disciplinary approaches or to multi-disciplinary and vocational perspectives. They each and all have their place. I was only drawing attention to some of the special pressures in specific institutional settings of teaching, and a related trend in higher education which has been very well documented and reflected upon (e.g., Bellah 1999). I therefore also noted that the teaching of criminal justice, irrespective of its institutional context, is often seen as training, even when it is not. My essay clearly implied a call to further develop and institutionalize different kinds of criminal justice education, at the exclusion of none. In this respect, I do not understand why one would take pride in the fact that most students from a Criminal Justice Administration program do not become practitioners and leaders in criminal justice, particularly when the program self-identifies as “both scholarly and professional” (The Criminologist, July/August 2002, p. 22). I agree that I belong in sociology. That is also where I am, though I never thought that I would ever see my professional identity used as a strategy of exclusion and insult against me.

Hemmens’ call for criminal justice scholars to separate themselves from the scholars of other academic programs, even if they would not like it, is not only offensive but also misguided. A claim for identity of self implies a claim for acceptance by others, and not only in matters of research but also with respect to teaching and professional service. The fact that an educational program does not produce professionals does not necessarily imply it is scholarly in orientation. Conversely, I am always delighted when some of my former students decide to enter the professional world of criminal justice and law. Moreover, academic scholarship is determined primarily by the kind of questions that are addressed rather than how much research is done or even what method is used. Then, it should be noted with all due humility that the degree of scienticity is generally not high in the social sciences, including sociology (Black 2000). Also, as Robert Merton (1972) observed some time ago, the strains towards separatism in the institutions of science come with great difficulties for the separated groups to have their claims of solidarity accepted as epistemological and ontological claims.

My essay was written in the spirit of a participatory model of dialogue. I therefore also criticized, rather than joined, the chorus of scholars who debunk the supposed uncritical nature of criminal justice education. Judging from Hemmens’ “Reply,” my objectives may not have been reached. Still, I am confident that many criminal justice scholars, in professional, disciplinary, and inter-disciplinary settings, will have many more serious arguments to defend their educational and scholarly positions, whether they differ from mine or not.

  • Bellah, R.N. (1999). Freedom, coercion, authority. Academe 85(1), 16-21.
  • Black, D. (2000). Dreams of pure sociology. Sociological Theory 18, 343-367.
  • The Criminologist (July/August 2002), p. 22.
  • Deflem, M. (2002). Teaching criminal justice in liberal arts education: A sociologist’s confessions. ACJS Today 22(2), 1, 3-5.
  • DuPont-Morales, T., Hooper, M., & Schmidt, J. (Eds, 2001). Handbook of Criminal Justice Administration. New York: Marcel Dekker Publishers.
  • Durkheim, E. (1972). The science of morality. In A. Giddens (Ed.), Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings (pp. 89-107). Cambridge University Press. (Original Work published 1887).
  • Habermas, J. (1996). Reply to symposium participants. Cardozo Law Review 17, 1477-1557.
  • Merton, R.K. (1972). Insiders and outsiders: A chapter in the sociology of knowledge. American Journal of Sociology 77, 9-47.

Letter to the Editor.
Mathieu Deflem
Published in ACJS Today 23(1):13, 2003.

With respect to a debate which I had originally envisoned to be about the teaching of criminal justice (Deflem 2002a), I regret to again have to bring up more elementary matters in light of the comments made by Craig Hemmens (2002a, b; Deflem 2002b). Anybody is always welcome to agree or disagree with my statements, but I would hope they do so without being offensive and without distorting my ideas. Yet Hemmens has misrepresented my ideas in every conceivable way and he does so again in his Rejoinder, not so much by misspelling my name, but most strikingly precisely then when he categorically denies taking any quotes out of context.

I ask the reader only to read what is written. Hemmens writes that “[Deflem] says that he decided to ‘teach what would surely be the easiest class anybody could ever take at the university’ and to advertise the course as ‘easy, fun, and a wonderful opportunity to watch me sell out big time’” (Hemmens 2002b, p. 11). In fact, however, the original statement in my essay reads as follows: “My immediate reaction was to teach what would surely be the easiest class anybody could ever take at the university. I also decided to recruit heavily from the courses I was teaching at the time, advertising the course as easy, fun, and a wonderful opportunity to ‘watch me sell out big time!’. Yet, fortunately, that is not what happened, for from the seeds of spite grew what would be a great experience for the students and their instructor alike” (Deflem 2002a, p. 3, emphases added). I ask readers only to read, especially before they write.

  • Deflem, M. (2002a). Teaching criminal justice in liberal arts education: A sociologist's confessions. ACJS Today 22(2), 1, 3-5.
  • Deflem, M. (2002b). Reply to “Reply.” ACJS Today 22(4), 10-11.
  • Hemmens, C. (2002a). Teaching criminal justice: Reply to a sociologist. ACJS Today 22(4), 8-10.
  • Hemmens, C. (2002b). Independence Day: Rejoinder to Professor Deflem. ACJS Today 22(4), 11-12.

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